Hunters Kill Whooping Cranes

Audubon of Kansas (AOK) is asking Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWP&T) Commissioners this week to maintain existing safeguards designed to protect federally endangered Whooping Cranes during their migratory stopovers (and often extended stays) in Kansas.

According to Ron Klataske, AOK Executive Director, "The most immediate and important thing that the KDWP&T Commission can do at this time is to reject the proposal being forwarded by KDWP&T staff suggesting that the safeguards implemented by the Commission in 2005 be discarded."

Following the shooting of a group of three Whooping Cranes at sunrise in early November 2004, the Commission moved the daily opening for the legal shooting of Sandhill Cranes to a half hour after sunrise. The hunters who shot the birds told investigators that they mistook the identity of the three birds that approached from the east just after sunrise. They were shooting silhouettes! It is very difficult for anyone to distinguish Whooping Cranes from Sandhill Cranes in under challenging light conditions, and the birds sometimes fly together in the same flocks.

In total disregard for the birds or the violation, the party of seven hunters continued hunting after dropping two of the whoopers, and left later that day without reporting the downed and wounded Whooping Cranes. Landowners reported the injured Whooping Cranes in early afternoon. The two severely wounded birds were captured. Attempts were made at the KSU Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and the wildlife research center at Patuxent, MD to keep them alive, but both died. The third had flown back to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. It didn't fly for a week, but the ultimate fate of that bird was never determined. It may have been unable to meet the arduous challenges of migration and survival in the wild and perished later from wounds--as most injured wildlife do.

Illegal shooting of Whooping Cranes is damaging to more than this endangered species
The shooting was an unfortunate tragedy for the gallant century-long effort by many people and organizations to protect and recover this iconic endangered species. The migratory population dropped to sixteen birds in 1942 and recovery from the brink of extinction has been slow and expensive over the past 70 years (see the USGS publication on Whooping Cranes). A survey in their primary wintering area associated with the Aransas NWR on the coast of Texas estimated the numbers there in February of this year at 245 within the survey area. The shooting was also an unfortunate reflection on the KDWP for not having closed the area to Sandhill Crane shooting. Closure is provided in the "Contingency Plan for Federal-State Cooperative Protection of Whooping Cranes" developed for the flyway. Likewise, the agency's failure to implement delayed morning shooting hours for Sandhill Crane hunting in Kansas is regarded by AOK as setting the stage for the accidental shootings of Whooping Cranges. Audubon of Kansas and other conservation organizations requested delayed shooting hours when Sandhill Crane hunting seasons were initiated in the state in 1993. The carelessness of the shooters in 2004 cast a shadow over the more honorable ethics of most hunters, as well.